Not Quite a Christmas

My word for 2018 is acceptance, and my mantra is “accept rather than expect.” This is especially important as people around the world celebrate Christmas today.

For me, Christmas is a family reunion at Donna’s and Elliot’s on Christmas Eve with most of our family and tons of dessert. It’s visiting Uncle Chris and going out for lunch. On Christmas Day, it’s a trip to the Stillitanos’ house for a fantastic Italian meal and playing with my cousins. Christmas is watching the classic Claymations like The Year Without a Santa Claus and decorating the tree while listening to The American Girls‘ Christmas album on the CD player shaped like a jukebox that my dad gave my mom years ago as a Christmas gift. Above all, Christmas has been a time to spend with my US family. These traditions have changed somewhat over the years, but their shape has remained the same.

The past two years, I’ve been a full hemisphere away from my US family. I’ve been incredibly blessed to be able to share the holidays with my wonderful and loving host family here, but the traditions are very different. Christmas carols and trees aren’t well-known in the rural areas. Last year, I tried my best to replicate my usual Christmas traditions by decorating my room, watching classic Christmas films, and listening to carols. I wrapped my host family’s gifts in Christmas paper that I bought in town. On Christmas Eve, I went to church as I usually would with my family in the US. But in trying to replicate my holiday traditions, I began to feel despair. It only reinforced how much I missed my US family and made it difficult to be present in South Africa.

This year, I decided not to try to celebrate Christmas. I listened to a few carols or watched a Christmas movie, but only when I felt like it. I am trying to give space to both my grief for being far from my US family and my gratitude for my SA family instead of feeling guilty. I went to an interfaith service yesterday and was baffled and disappointed when the choir sang “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “Away in a Manger” to different tunes than the ones I know so well, but once the initial shock wore off, I let myself appreciate the beauty of the carols anyway.

With the heat and the absence of most of the markers that I’m used to, today simply doesn’t feel like Christmas. But I’m learning that that’s ok. I don’t need to force myself to manufacture Christmas cheer. In my meditation this morning, I wished all people to be happy, healthy and free. I plan to read a good book and enjoy myself today without the pressure to make it special. Later, I’ll call my family and be grateful for Whatsapp, which allows us to hear each other’s voices even though we’re far away. I am learning to accept these things and set aside my rigid expectations of Christmas, lessons that I hope I will take with me when I resume my usual traditions next year. I hope that all of you reading this are happy, healthy and free all year round, not just on Christmas, and that you embrace acceptance and new perspectives in 2019.


On Being Still: How I Learned Patience and Persistence from 2048 & Candy Crush

21 months.

I’ve been in Peace Corps South Africa for 21 months now.  In just six short months, I’ll completely upend my life as I know it to move back to the U.S.  Some days I eagerly await this transition, while others I’m nervous and sad to leave behind my host family, village, organization, friends, and the life I’ve cultivated.

From an early age, I knew I wanted to travel abroad.  For me, the answer always lay elsewhere; didn’t matter where, it just wasn’t where I was.  My solution to problems was to move to a new apartment, a new job, or a new city.  Then I came to Peace Corps, and I was stuck.  No such thing as being able to move somewhere new, unless I needed a site change (thankfully I didn’t), decided to end my service, or had to end my service early due to reasons out of my control.  So I moved halfway around the world to learn how to be still.  And it’s been one of the greatest challenges of my life.

How does one learn to be still?  In the West, it’s all about movement, achievement, production, efficiency, etc.  This mindset has found its way into every nook and cranny of my subconscious mind.  When I first came to Peace Corps, my expectations had a lot to do with what my work would be like and what I would achieve during my service.  I expected a lot of progress on my personal growth and some very good projects from myself.  As my first year inched by, I began to realize how little I’d accomplished in a Western sense.  My sense of self-value slipped.  I had defined myself for so long by my achievements that I felt adrift when trying to figure out a new way to judge myself.

At some point during this process, apathy set in.  I began to spend much of my time outside of work playing 2048 and Candy Crush.  In fact, I was quite addicted to the sense of accomplishment these games provided every time I passed a level or achieved a higher score.  The more I began to use these games as a self-confidence booster, the less I enjoyed them.  But over time, something important happened: I realized that eventually, I would achieve a higher score or pass to the next level regardless of whether or not I stressed about it.  I could waste a bunch of free boosters and feel stress, or I could simply enjoy the games and know that each required a simple combination of luck and patience.  I stopped feeling so frustrated when I played the same level in Candy Crush for days on end.  A strange way of understanding the mantra, This too shall pass, but it worked for me.

This new thought pattern began to manifest itself in my job and personal life.  I began to observe the way that events, emotions, illnesses, and other occurrences arise and eventually fade away.  This has been an incredibly timely realization as I’ve been dealing with ambiguous and frustrating GI troubles since May.  I came to the capital in July for a series of tests that revealed nothing, and I’m back yet again because we still don’t have a clear diagnosis.  Some days, the stress from my GI problems and the uncertainty about its origins and treatment make me feel quite low and convince me that my symptoms will either stay the same or only get worse.  But at other times, I remember that all things pass, even this.  As frustrating and painful as it’s been, this experience has been a valuable one in pushing me to reconnect with my body.  I’ve explored and started using several stress management and embodiment techniques, including meditation and tapping.  I’m learning how to be still with my body’s aches and pains and my mind’s fearful thoughts instead of trying to escape.

2017 in Books

In 2017, I completed the Popsugar Reading Challenge (although I started in October).  I exceeded my goal of reading 50 books for a total of 56!  Want to read more in 2018?  Consider doing the Popsugar challenge for 2018!

Top Books of 2017 (only includes first-time reads, in no particular order)

    • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
    • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    • A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
    • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
    • Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
    • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers

Least Favorite Books of 2017

  • The Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
  • No One is Here Except All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

List of Books Reviewed in order

  • Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
  • Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell
  • The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell & Bill Moyers
  • Origin by Dan Brown
  • Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket
  • The Dark Tower #1: The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  • True Refuge by Tara Brach
  • Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay
  • The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  • The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
  • The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
  • Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami
  • No One is Here Except for All of Us by Ramona Ausubel
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • I Think I Am in Friend-Love with You by Yumi Sakugawa
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
  • The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  • March Pt. 1 by John Lewis
  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie
  • The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Charmed Life by Dianna Wynne Jones

Keep reading for individual book reviews, along with their Popsugar challenge prompts where applicable->

Continue reading

Staying Engaged While Overseas

I’m going to let my public adminstration side show here for a moment to talk about an important topic: staying engaged and making our voices heard while overseas. I know many PCVs who have expressed opinions on legislation such as the Graham-Cassidy bill, but who are unable to call their senators and representatives because of time zone differences and prohibitive phone costs.

It is still important for us to stay engaged, and you can through different apps: Countable allows you to keep up-to-date on new legislation and electronically “vote” on your opinion, which is sent to your representatives, and Stance enables you to leave voicemails for your representatives over the internet. I have used both of them to voice my opinion on critical legislation, and they are free and easy to use. These apps are the ones that I know about, but there are many more. 

So please use these and other means to share your thoughts with your representatives.  It’s really, really important (and thanks to these apps, fast and easy)!  But if you’re a PCV, please remember not to represent yourself as a PCV or on behalf of the Peace Corps.  Big thanks to Monday Bazaar for sharing this very important information and for an excellent post on how to call your representatives!

Do you have any other ways to stay involved or tips? Share them in the comments!

Committee Camaraderie

Peace Corps South Africa has four different committees that volunteers can apply to serve on: Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC), Peer Support Alliance (PSA), Diversity, and Resource (RC).  Generally, two to three volunteers are selected from each cohort based on either an application or election process.  PSA works to provide mental and emotional support to other PCVs, reaching out regularly and providing sessions on self-care.  The Diversity Committee aims to foster inclusion and support of all cultures and identities in PCSA through training sessions, creation of safe spaces, and celebrations of diversity.  VAC serves as the PCV-staff liaison, representing cohorts with senior PC staff in discussions on important policies and procedures.  Finally, the RC is responsible for collecting and disseminating critical resources to PCVs, curating the monthly newsletter, and maintaining the shared space for PCVs at headquarters.  Committees are an important part of Peace Corps; each country has its own committees, although they usually cover similar topics.

The moment I heard about RC, I was practically jumping out of my seat to join.  I love resources, and I’m passionate about connecting people with the human and technical resources to achieve their dreams.  I applied within two days of the application being sent, and I finally heard the good news at IST: I was accepted!  I had already begun to collect a variety of toolkits related to HIV, working with orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), and math tutoring that had been very useful.

This past Sunday, I attended my first RC meeting and got to meet my committee mates.  We worked at breakneck speed for two days to seriously revamp the flash drive—eliminating outdated documents, adding a tremendous amount of new resources, reorganizing folders, increasing our exercise and podcast offerings (very critical to supporting PCVs’ mental health, trust me), and copying these in an intense assembly line onto 40 flash drives.  Today, we were able to present these ridiculously amazing flash drives to the newest cohort, SA36, who will swear in as volunteers on Friday.  It is our hope that these resources will support them as they begin their journey as English teachers in Limpopo.  As a bonus, I also had a chance to meet the new SA36 volunteer who went to Hiram College, my tiny undergrad!

Is it incredibly nerdy that I’m so passionate about resources?  Absolutely.  But I’m so glad that I’ve found a group of people who are equally committed to ensuring that we do all we can to provide tools for other PCVs.  The knowledge of individual PCVs is astounding, and being able to pool that to aid future PCVs will aid us all in helping our schools and communities.  I’m also very grateful for the other committees, and a big congratulations to my cohort mates who were selected to serve on them!

Are you a PCV who is currently serving or previously served on a committee?  What was your experience?


I also wanted to thank everyone who responded positively to my last post.  It was very validating to hear how much Romanticizing Peace Corps resonated with others!  Finally, I want to put a quick shout-out to two of my very dear friends, Rachel and Ron, who were married this past weekend 🙂

Short Story

Hello blog readers!  This is not very Peace Corps-related, but I wrote a short story this past summer.  I agonized over it for about three months, and luckily I had several friends who very generously read it and provided feedback.  I submitted the final product to several journals but, unfortunately, it was not accepted at any of them.  So instead, I’m sharing it with you all here.  Enjoy!

Read here-> The Upward-Downward Path by Lindsay Kuhn


Hello everyone!  I’m Lindsay, a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa working as a Community HIV Outreach Volunteer.  To learn more, see my About Me & FAQs page and my first post. To learn more about elands and why I named my page after them, check out Elands.  For more on my Peace Corps journey, see my application timeline, and then take a look at some other PCV blogs.  This blog is my perspective on living within a Setswana village in South Africa, so it is important to note that this is not representative of the many cultures, people or places of South Africa and is filtered through my personal lens.  You can stay up-to-date with my adventures by clicking on the “Follow” button on the right-hand side of your screen!

But what if there are tarantulas?! (pt. 1)


I was recently reading an RPCV’s blog and there it was: the dreaded tarantula post.  I thought if this RPCV hadn’t had to deal with a tarantula, there was hope that I wouldn’t (rational, right?).  One of the things I’ve given a lot of thought to during this pre-Peace Corps process is how to deal with certain situations.  I’m a planner, and my international development background means I’m all about mitigation strategies.  It calms my inner type A personality, and even though it will all go out the window, I like the idea of a plan.  So here’s the first installment of my “what ifs.”

What if…

  • I see a tarantula, black widow, brown recluse, etc (!!!)?  If you know me, you know I really hate spiders.  I’ve had to make peace with smaller ones because the attic bathroom attracts 3-4 daddy long legs per week, but nothing will ever make me comfortable with the idea of a giant, poisonous spider within a 500 mile radius of me.
    • Current plan: Get a shovel.  Keeps distance between me and spider but also heavy enough to kill on the first blow.  Where am I getting a shovel?  That’s another question for another day!
  • I don’t have running water?  Peace Corps provides water filters and training on how to use them properly (or so I’ve heard).  This would be less than ideal, but plenty of PCVs deal without running water.
    • Current plan: Stock up on bottled or clean tap water.  Look into rooftop rainwater harvesting, although the rains aren’t very reliable in SA.
  • I don’t have electricity?  Chances are decent that I won’t have electricity.  I’m a little unclear about cooking without electricity, but I imagine PC will give us some ideas.
    • Current plan: Get a solar charger for essentials.  Work with host family on how to deal with cooking sans electricity; they probably know much more than me!  Or possibly look into a camping stove.
  • My community/colleagues/clients/etc. don’t like/trust me?  Well, I certainly can’t force someone to like or trust me.  And without trust, it’s going to be really hard to do any work.  Hopefully my strategies, coupled with previous experience working in similar situations, will help me with this situation.
    • Current plan: Spend a lot of time building trust and forming relationships, learning what is important to my community/colleagues/clients/etc., and demonstrate my commitment to my project.  If all else fails, be patient and talk with PC, my host family, or other appropriate persons.